Reviews

The Man Who Saved Paris, and Les Catacombes de Paris

Here’s a must read for anyone who loves Paris, France; this article by Amy Plum about The Man Who Saved Paris, Charles-Axel Guillamot, who was charged by Louis XVI with keeping Paris from continuing to collapse into the limestone mines that underlie this spectacular city. The restoration, which continued throughout the revolution and the long period of change afterwards, gave us the Paris we enjoy today.

Mentioned in the article is a proponent of Guillamot’s work, and a dauntless protector of Paris in his own right, historian Gilles Thomas. Thomas has published a number of books on the fascinating system of Catacombes that still hide beneath Paris and its wonders. One of his books is available on Amazon, Les Catacombes de Paris  – a fascinating read!

– Jean Znidarsic

 

 

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Lincoln in the BardoA good and awfully spooky book, Lincoln in the Bardo,  evokes the gloomy awesomeness of late October. If you have spent more hours than you care to admit wandering in cemeteries and haunted (surely) houses, or pondering the grim and sorrowful life of Abe and Mary Todd Lincoln, this is for you. Just right for an autumn read by the fire. Includes a visceral encounter with President Lincoln that every Lincoln obsessed ghoul will savor. Sad, yes; grim, check. But perhaps you enjoy these things, especially when served up by vivid and, unaccountably, lively, characters, and the kind of well earned, satisfying finish we never got from the Da Vinci Code or Cold Mountain. Stay! You will not throw this book into the fire.                                       – Znidarsic

 

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

Little Paris Bookshop_editedThis story has a promising start. Who wouldn’t want to hang out in Paris with the proprietor of a bookshop floating on the Seine, who can take one look at you and recommend just the book that will fix your troubles? This seemed like a book that would do just that for me. But too soon, he ups anchor and leaves Paris for what can’t really be considered an adventure, but rather, a travelogue of his broken heart. The promised tale of fascinating Parisians, a bit shady, and perhaps a troubled by opium or absinthe, being redeemed by a book, digresses into a long, long recounting of his rather dull romance long ago with a woman who is somehow not as interesting as the troubled, bookish characters I was hoping for. But if you happen to be working out your own lost love that you can’t seem to get over, this might be just the book you need.                – Znidarsic

 

To Walk Invisible

To Walk InvisibleNear the end of his life, Norman Mailer set out to write a novel about Hitler’s mother. During the development, he couldn’t help but become more interested in Hitler’s father, Alois, who possessed the usual traits men of his generation find interesting in one another: ambitious, brutal, and philandering — as well as Adolph himself: ambitious, brutal, and incandescently evil. How could the mundane concerns of Alois’ victim— incest and servant-rape survivor, Klara, who eventually became his third wife, hold anyone’s interest long enough to inspire a book of the scope to which Mailer generally aspired? The writer, who says as much in an interview with New York Times’ Sam Tanenhaus, turned instead to the two males because they were just more interesting to him. In fact, he really liked them—as characters, of course. The book became, The Castle in the Forest

 

Although it might be argued that with time, nobody has discovered Klara Hitler’s torrid accounts of the domestic dramas in which she was surely a participant, nor any evidence of secretly brilliant reflections that might help explain her son, either of which might have provided Mailer with fodder for a fascinating novel about her, the same excuse cannot be made for sidelining the female protagonists in the latest effort to document the lives of the Brontë sisters. Although it is a two episode mini-series, rather than a novel, To Walk Invisible concerns the people who gave us some of the best novels ever penned by women, and the lengths they had to traverse (pretend to be male) in order to spark the interest of a publisher. In that regard, they were a step ahead of Klara, who did not manage to posthumously change her gender in order to hold the attention of the venerable Norman Mailer.

 

Sally Wainwright and co make a creditable start in bringing us into the presence of the most fascinating trio of female authors ever to have struggled through an unpromising youth, as they did, in the grim parsonage at Haworth, Yorkshire England. Indeed, they were, ‘tenacious of life’ long enough to improbably burst forth with still unparalleled literary achievement before relenting, in stunningly quick fashion, in a sequence of untimely and heart breaking deaths.

 

The casting is spot on, with Finn Atkins, riveting as the peppery Charlotte, being the primary character, largely perhaps, because she outlived all of her sisters and managed to marry and to take her place among the literati of her time.

But, spoiler, we are not to see this. Nor are we treated to the surely compelling vision of the fevered Emily—played by Chloe Pirrie—the author of Wuthering Heights—Wuthering Heights!—who wrote her own heroine off the stage in such indelibly rapturous prose, taking leave of this world herself; nor of Charlie Murphy as Anne, whose resolutely noble, yet eloquent end we, alas, can only imagine; nor even Charlotte’s subsequent brooding, (delightful, to us) rhapsodizing, pacing about the dining room table, and ultimately pulling herself together in all this grief to go out and face the world of her own and her siblings’ admirers. We are Cheated! Her romance and marriage?—Cheated. The (probably little) transformed Charlotte, after sharing a bed with a man for the first time?—Cheated. Charlotte bringing her singular brand of resolute forbearance to the excruciating and mystifying, probably ectopic, pregnancy that would take her life?—Not to be!

 

What instead? Having taunted us by introducing this trio, along with their less interesting and unworthy brother, Branwell (well played by Adam Nagaitis), but whose dissolute character has been thoroughly explored by many an author, including Wilde, Dickens, Anne and Charlotte, the series recounts his not very long, nor interesting spiral into poisons, debts, and madness, in the midst of which he, at last, expires.

 

Just when the story promises to turn to the three interesting siblings, and what they will do with their newfound success, we are instead offered a summary—a SUMMARY!—of the events that followed. I am surely not alone in being of the opinion that even the most mundane evening at the hearth with the Bronte sisters, however tedious it might have been to them, would be absolutely riveting to me. I would gladly watch them try and swat a fly, accompanied as it surely would be by their comments. And to see it enacted by this worthy cast? I was ready.

 

Still grappling with the disappointment, we are off-ramped into present day Haworth where people go to traipse the cobbled paths once traipsed by these formidable and fascinating sisters. They, and the rest of us who long for closer acquaintance with the formidable Emily, Anne and Charlotte, have been cheated once again by the easy infatuation people continue to have with dissipated mediocre men over fascinating, accomplished women. The only acceptable excuse would be if the project ran out of funds. The only way this can be forgiven would be if Wainright were to finish the job. It would require several further episodes. I’ll be waiting.

  • Znidarsic
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